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September 11, 2009

Another 9/11 Anniversary: The Battle of Teutoburg Forest (Mætenloch)

On this date 2000 years ago there was another attack that changed history. It was the Battle of Teutoburg Forest on Sep. 11th. 9 AD in what is now Northwestern Germany where an alliance of Germanic tribes defeated and utterly destroyed a force of three Roman legions. A defeat that shook the entire Roman empire and forever limited the expansion of the empire to the north. A defeat whose effects are still with us today.


Warning - serious history geekery below the fold.

At that time the Romans controlled all of Europe south of the Rhine, the Mediterranean was a Roman lake, and the Roman army was considered to be invincible. Soon Rome looked to the North and decided to bring the tribes there under Roman rule. In 7 AD the Roman legate Publius Quinctilius Varus was sent to take control of the territory west of the Rhine river which was controlled by a collection of fierce independent Germanic tribes.

On Sep. 9th hearing that a local tribe was about to rebel, Varus rushed his force of three legions plus cavalry to put down the revolt before it could grow. He took a road through a heavy forest in unfamiliar territory. As they marched along the muddy road, the Roman troops soon became spread out over 10 miles. Suddenly they were ambushed by Germanic warriors on both sides along their lines.

The Germanic forces were led by Arminius, the prince of a local tribe who had grown up in Rome and was deeply familiar with Roman military tactics. Over the next two days the Romans attempted to escape to the nearest Roman fort but were finally trapped and surrounded between a swamp and a hill. Realizing there was no hope, Varus fell on his sword as did most of the other officers. The rest of the Romans soldiers were killed to nearly a man, 15,000 to 20,000 men in total. The 17th, 18th, and 19th legions were annihilated, never to be reformed.

When Rome finally heard the news of the defeat, they were utterly shocked and devastated. Not only had their legions been defeated for the first time in a century, but the Army had lost 10% of all its forces in a single battle. Supposedly the emperor Augustus wandered his palace banging his head on the walls shouting, “Varus, give me back my legions!” The defeat was a huge psychological blow to Roman pride and destroyed their sense of invulnerability. The Roman Empire did continue to grow for next hundred years to the east and west but never again did it try to conquer the tribes of Germania. The Rhine River became the permanent northern border of the empire forever dividing Europe between Latin and Germanic language and culture.

And the impact of this single battle is still with us today. If the Romans had gone on to conquer all of Germany, it’s likely that Latin would have replaced the Germanic languages, and the invasions of Britain by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes a few hundred years later might never have happened. Possibly the Thirty Years’ war might never have occurred and even the long conflict between France and Germany that culminated in two world wars might have been averted. Even the fact that you’re reading this post today in English and not in some Romance language has its roots in a battle that happened 2000 years ago this day.

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posted by xgenghisx at 05:45 AM

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